Officials in Massachusetts’ second-largest city have signaled their intention to begin wooing the Maine Red Claws away from Portland.

But the basketball team’s former co-owner and general manager, now Portland’s city manager, said Worcester’s chances of succeeding are about as good as those of swishing a half-court shot.

The Worcester City Council on Tuesday ordered City Manager Edward Augustus to “consider reaching out to the Boston Celtics organization to express interest in bringing their G League affiliate to Worcester once their partnership has commenced with the Maine Red Claws.”

The “partnership” refers to the Celtics’ pending acquisition of the Red Claws. The Celtics announced in July that the team had reached an agreement to purchase the Red Claws, reflecting a trend that has seen other NBA teams buy their “G League” affiliates. In some cases, the purchase has triggered an effort to move the minor league team closer to its NBA parent.

An online video of Worcester’s City Council meeting shows the discussion was initiated by Councilor Sean Rose, who said there would be a number of benefits to the Red Claws moving to their city, which is about an hour’s drive west of Boston.

“If there was a chance that they might be looking to move out of Maine and have a closer commute, in one of the best sports cities in New England … I would just want us to extend that olive branch if there were ever any potential down the road,” Rose told the council.

Following Rose’s comments, the council voted in favor of the motion.

But Portland City Manager Jon Jennings, former co-owner, president and general manager of the Red Claws, said anyone who thinks the Celtics would be swayed by such an argument doesn’t understand the NBA team’s strong ties to Portland.

“There is a long, long history with Maine and the Boston Celtics,” Jennings said. “The Celtics have given us no indication whatsoever that they have any interest in leaving Maine or Portland – in fact, I think it’s the exact opposite, I think they’re very happy.”

Worcester has had recent success luring another minor league team away from its former host city. In August 2018, the Pawtucket Red Sox announced their intent to leave Rhode Island for Worcester, marking a major victory for city officials who spent a year trying to attract the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.

Still, Jennings adamantly disagreed with Rose’s assertions that moving the Red Claws to Worcester would shorten the team’s commute, and that Portland is an inferior sports city. He said he is “very confident” the Celtics will keep the team in Portland.

“I’ve always been a big fan of the city of Worcester, but unfortunately I don’t think the councilor must have driven (the Massachusetts Turnpike) recently, and (dealt) with the traffic between Boston and Worcester,” Jennings said. “I also think that the city councilor must not know anything about the rich sports history that we have here in Portland.”

Worcester is the second-largest city in Massachusetts, with a population of over 185,000 people, according to a 2018 U.S. Census Bureau estimate. Surrounding Worcester County has a population of over 830,000, according to the 2018 estimate. Portland, meanwhile, had a population of roughly 66,000 in 2018, according to the census data, and Cumberland County had about 293,ooo people.

Founded in Portland in 2009, the Red Claws are under a five-year lease with the city to play at the Portland Expo through the 2024 season, with the option of a five-year extension through 2029.

But it’s unclear what the long-term relationship between the Celtics and Portland might be. The Celtics and Red Claws said in a statement about the acquisition that they will not have further comment until completion of the purchase, which is subject to approval by the G League.

In some cases, NBA teams have purchased their minor league affiliates and then moved them closer geographically. For example, the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder purchased the Tulsa 66ers in 2008 and six years later moved the franchise 107 miles to Oklahoma City, rebranding it as the Blue.

 

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